When I was a child, my mom warned me not to hang on the shower curtain rod. I liked to stand on the edge of the tub, grip the silver bar above my head, and lift one foot at a time, testing to see if I might be able to lift both feet at the same time. My mom told me about a million times that if I tried to swing on the bar, it couldn’t hold me and I would meet an unfortunate fate. She told me again and again and again not to do it. But I didn’t listen and trust me when I say that the result wasn’t pretty. Basically, it ended with my 10-year-old body splayed out on the bathtub floor, a busted up shower curtain rod, and a very angry mother.
“I told you,” she said. True enough. But some lessons you just have to learn the hard way.
The same is true of parenting lessons and life lessons. We parents are a wealth of information, and we love to share it. We dole out advice and recommendations. We offer tips and suggestions. We share our warnings and from-the-trenches stories. And thank heavens we do, because this parenting gig would be even harder than it already is if we didn’t help each other out.
But there are some parenting lessons that we just need to learn the hard way. Sometimes we just have to do it ourselves. Sometimes you can only figure out what works by figuring out what doesn’t work. And sometimes we need to learn the hard way because humans are smug assholes who think others don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. We think we can hang from shower curtain rods when, in reality, we cannot.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way, and you’ll probably have to learn the hard way too.
1. Buy diapers a size bigger.
After my son was born, a good friend let me in on one of the best-kept secrets of parenting. Peeing through a diaper means a baby needs a bigger size, not a smaller one. Unfortunately, you can only learn this one after you’ve been peed on or your baby has wet through yet another onesie in the middle of the night.
2. Learn what support really looks like.
It has taken me nearly 40 years to learn what real support looks like. Hint: Support does not look like unsolicited advice or humblebrags or smug “I told you so”s.
3. There is such a thing as too much cookie dough.
It might seem impossible, and it tastes so fantastically good at the time (like a hug and pep talk wrapped into one), but there is a fine line between comfort food and sugar-induced nausea — and usually I don’t discover that line until I’ve crossed it.
4. Learn how to get (some) sleep.
For some families, this means co-sleeping. For others, it means diligent sleep training. And for some, it means trying anything and everything to get your child to sleep until you realize that the only thing you can do is wait for the shitstorm to pass, invest in a pair of earplugs, drink copious amounts of coffee, and complain to anyone and everyone about how little sleep you’re getting.
5. Learn how to spot a true friend.
A true friend is not the person who lets messages go unanswered until she needs a favor or is in trouble, nor is it the person who judges you when you admit you have no fucking idea what you’re doing. A real friend is the one who responds to your 2:00 a.m. texts and says “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing either.”
6. Don’t feed a toddler corn before a road trip.
Enough said. Just trust me on this.
7. Always keep a tampon handy.
Because the one time you get your period two days early (surprise!) will be the day you’re at the pool and both tampon machines are broken and you have to bum a tampon off the teenager working the front desk. #truestory
8. A perm isn’t the answer when you’re looking to change up your look.
I have the fourth-grade pictures to prove it.
9. Your body is freaking amazing.
Most days I wallow in a pool of perfectionist nitpicking. I hate the six deep wrinkles that have taken up permanent residence on my forehead. My thighs rub together, and I have a perpetual 3-months pregnant belly. I am usually more annoyed than loving toward my body — until I get sick or injured, that is. Because there is nothing like a raging case of the stomach flu to remind you of how freaking awesome, beautiful, and strong your body is.
10. Guilt is a sneaky motherfucker.
Parents are programmed to feel guilty about everything. We feel guilty whether we work outside the home or stay home, and whether we let our kids eat Cheez Doodles or spend their college savings on an all-organic, vegan, non-GMO diet exclusively fed by Whole Foods. We feel guilty for looking at our phones, and for ignoring our phones and not responding to our friend’s texts. We feel guilty about spending too much time with our kids, and too little time with our kids. Hell, we even feel guilty if we don’t feel guilty. Last fall, I missed several of my son’s baseball games and after I confessed to a friend that I didn’t feel guilty about it, I immediately felt guilty for not feeling guilty. Guilt is a sneaky bastard.
11. Be careful about advice.
Some people don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Some things you need to figure out for yourself. And yes, some parenting lessons you just need to learn the hard way.